HR & Personal Development

How to handle an unpredictable future: Take the first step

How do you navigate in an uncertain world that keep getting more and more complex and unpredictable? The answer from Paul B. Brown, Leonard A. Schlesinger and Charles F. Kiefer is: “Just start”.

Just Start is also the title of their latest book, subtitled “Take Action; Embrace Uncertainty and Create the Future”. The premise of this book is that the world we live in today is unpredictable. But the way we are taught to navigate in it is based on experiences from a world that was far more predictable. So the reason it's so difficult to navigate in this unpredictable world, is simply that we are using the wrong navigational strategy.

But then what can we do? And who does this successfully? The authors have turned to successful serial-entrepreneurs that, if any, are capable of doing business in a landscape of uncertainty and unpredictability. It turns out that although all entrepreneurs are different, and their reasons for starting a business of their own are different, the way they make their decisions are remarkably alike.

The authors build their method on research, among other things, by professor Saras D. Sarasvathy from University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, who have compared a variety of entrepreneur’s decision-processes. She describes the process they use as:

  1. “Take a small, smart step forward
  2. Pause to see what they learned by doing so; and
  3. Build that learning into what they do next.”

The author’s version of the process above sounds in all its simplicity like this:

  • Act
  • Learn (from that action) and
  • Build (off that learning), and act again

It sounds simple, but according to the authors, it's not the way most of us do things. As mentioned, this method different from the method of planning we are taught since childhood, where we typically assume that the future will largely resemble the past. And while the methods works in many situations – where math and statistics are meaningful – there are others more unpredictable situations where it does not work.

Just start

The method starts with a “smart step”, as the authors describe as an action you take based on the resources you already possess, and which never involves more than you can afford loosing. Your “smart step” can involve others than yourself, even though it does not have to. When you have taken your first step, you must take time to reflect on what you've learned. From here you take another small step.

The authors calls the method “creaction”, a concept that is a contraction of “acting” and “creating evidence”. As the name implies, the method is evidence-based. This means that you do not have to do more than what the evidence (the results of your actions) shows you.

The creacting-process

The creacting-process consists of three steps.

  1. Wish. Find or think of something that you would like. You do not have to be very passionate about it, just enough to start. (Example: “I would really like to start a restaurant, but I have no idea, if I am ever going to be able to do it”.)

  2. Take a small step as fast as you can. This step consists of three parts:

    • Act quickly with the means you have. This means what you know, the people you know and what else is at your disposal. (“I know a really good chef, and if I ask my family and friends to support med, I may have enough money to open a restaurant”.)

    • Stay within your acceptable loss. Make sure that that the price of your “smart step” (in relation to time, money etc.) is never more than you are willing to lose if you do not succeed.

    • Bring others aboard to gain access to more resources, share the risk and confirm that your idea sticks.

  3. Build on what you have learned from the first step. Every time you act, reality changes. If you pay attention, you will learn something from taking a “smart step”. For example:

    • You will often get close to what you would really like (“I should be able to afford something just outside the city center”). Sometimes your wish changes (“It seems that there are a lot of Italian restaurants nearby. We need to come up with a new menu”). After you acted, did the restaurant bring you closer to your goal? (Yes, it looks like I am able to open my restaurant?). Do you need more resources? (Yes, I need another chef, the one I got only knows how to make Italian food”). Is your goal still the same? (Yes!”). Act again until you, on account of what you learn, get what you want (or decide that you do not want it or that you want something else).


13 reasons that action is best, when the future cannot be predicted

    1. If you act and find out what works,
    2. And what does not
    3. If you never act, you will not find out, what is possible and what is not. There might be some things, you think that you cannot do. But you will not know, until you have tried.
    4. If you act, you will find out if you like it…
    5. Or if you do not.
    6. To act starts a marked reaction that might lead you in the right direction.
    7. If you act, you can find someone that can follow you (a partner, for instance).
    8. When you act, you will find ways of doing things faster, cheaper and better.
    9. If you act, you will not spend the rest of your life wondering: “What would have happened, if…”
    10. If all you do is think, you might risk becoming a less interesting person.
    11. If all you do is think, all you know are thoughts.
    12. Action always lead to proof.
    13. If you act, you will know what is right.

Source: Paul B. Brown, Leonard A. Schlesinger and Charles F. Kiefer: Just Start: Take Action; Embrace Uncertainty and Create the Future (2012)